Quick Tips to help take control of your personal life.

REAL Home Economics from a frugal, practical, fiscally savvy working mom.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kitchen Sponge Tip

Do you have a "good" sponge and a "grunge" sponge in your kitchen?

When you downgrade a sponge to grunge status simply cut off one corner so you can tell the difference and prevent misuse.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Cash Management while Job Hunting

    Given the jobless rate I figure it's time for write about cash flow management while job hunting.  Hopefully this approach will reduce the stress of using your emergency savings and inform you on how long the money will last.  If it's a long time... then you'll sleep better.  If it isn't... than this exercise might add to your stress (sorry) but give you a heads up.  Either way you'll appreciate the necessity of re-building emergency savings when you are back being fully employed.

    There are many cash flow items that impacted your salary before you got paid.  That all changes when you're unemployed.  If you had been making $50,000 in salary you weren't living on $50,000 due to taxes, social security and 401(k) contributions.  Your net pay was likely between 30-45% less.
    So, your prior Net Pay amount is the gap 
    you need to narrow and fund while unemployed.

    How to determine the Cash Gap
    (How much of your emergency savings will be needed each month?)

    Do the following calculation:
    Net Pay from your former job (per month)
    - Less Reduced Expenses* (see list below)
    - Less Unemployment Compensation
    + Increased Health Insurance
    = Cash Gap per month

    *Reducible monthly expenses:  house cleaners, child care, commuting costs, dry cleaning, take-out, cable services and phone minutes, lawn care, etc.)

    How long will my $ last?
    1. First, deposit any severance pay into your SAVINGS account.  This is part of your emergency savings.

    2. Divide the your savings account balance by the 'Cash Gap' amount calculated above.
      This number is the estimated # of months worth of savings you have. 
      If it feels insufficient, than more drastic cost-cutting measures and/or supplemental interim income might be needed.

    3. Finally, set-up an automatic transfer bi-monthly from saving to checking for half the cash gap amount.
      This transfer becomes your self-paycheck.  It reduces the stress of having to keep transferring $ to pay bills. If you are sticking to your reduced budget, than you shouldn't have to touch savings unless an unexpected, non-routine expense comes along.
    Remember, this is about managing cash flow through a short period of your working life.  You'll have time to resume retirement/college savings, vacations, and home improvements soon.

    Good luck with the job search,
    Practical Jenn

    P.S. Let me know if you see any interesting jobs for me!!!

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    New approach to buying plane tickets

    Ever get frustrated looking for plane tickets????

    It seems like you get one part at the day/time you want, nonstop and at a good price... and then compromise on the return flight.   Recently, when searching for fares to Florida, I noticed that they price & assemble round trip tickets as two parts.  I could get a great trip down on Jet Blue, but the return flights were horrible.  On the flip side Airtran had a cheap, nonstop trips available to fly back.  So, I bought two one-way tickets and saved over $150 per ticket (when compared to the best round trip ticket on a single carrier) - plus I got great flights and no compromises!   I just did the same thing again to get my mother north for Easter!

    Buy 2 one-way tickets on different airlines!

    • You have to be good at having multiple browser windows open at once so you set up each leg and buy them both within seconds of each other.
    Happy Flying,
    Practical Jenn

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Brook in my basement

    Sorry for the absence of new posts, but I have been dealing with the aftermath of historic March rains.  The water table rose so high that we continue to have a new brook forcing its way through our basement.  Thanks to an inventive plumber we have drilled a canal system in our basement floor to catch the water as it comes in and channel it to the DRY sump pump hole.   

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Organizing Recipes - Creating a Personal Cookbook

    Spring weather always inspires me to change-up what I'm cooking.  Forget the new, incredible pot roast recipe I just made ...with the clock's sprung ahead it's time to grill!  I created a personal cookbook so, I can find that great grilled asparagus with Gorgonzola-lemon butter recipe from "Cooking Light" 5 years ago!

    Recipes come from so many sources these days:  friends, allrecipes.com, magazines, cookbooks, etc.  I've centralized all my "keepers" and organized them in an easy & useful way -- with a 3-ring binder.  It's not as pretty as the real cookbooks, but much easier to work with. 

    How To Create Your Own Cookbook

    • 3-ring Binder
    • Clear Sheet Protectors (3-hole punched)
    • Dividers (preferably with pockets) labeled into your own categories
    • Add your favorite recipes:  Copy pages out of your cookbooks, magazines pages and internet printouts
    • All your tested and favorite recipes are in one place.
    • You no longer have to remember from which cookbook or cooking magazine a recipe came.
    • Plastic sheet protector keeps it from getting grungy
    • When making the recipe, simply remove the page from the binder so it takes up less counter space. 
      I sometimes tape it to an upper cabinet.
    • When using several recipes you have them all at your fingertips without all the bulk.
    • As you find new recipes to try, put them in the divider pocket. 
      After they get tried out & designated as a "keeper", put it in the sheet protector.
    • Easy too add all your personal modifications and recipe notes
    Happy cooking,
    Practical Jenn

    FYI - My latest favorite cooking magazine is Cooks Country from America's Test Kitchen. 
    • Share your favorite website, magazine or cookbook with a comment below!

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Preventing arguments over clothes... use a budget

    When my daughter hit middle school she also became more fashion conscious and brand aware.  At the same time, I became more aware how fast a college bill would be hitting us.  To reconcile the competing financial strains and teach budgeting and value I came up with the following solution --- a separate 'tween' clothing budget.

    We sat down together and created a spreadsheet itemizing her clothing needs (after inventorying her closet).  We also took into consideration that she was probably going to need two sets of clothes to make it through the school year given her rapid growth rate.  We discussed and agreed upon the average cost* of each type of item. Then, she plugged it in the spreadsheet and I showed her how to do cell equations, copy & paste and column sum. After rounding up the total she liked the $ amount ...it was a lot more than she'd thought she'd get and was psyched to go shopping!

    *Average Cost =  Mall Store + Old Navy on-sale price divided by 2 

    Now, when she wants to buy something crazy-expensive there isn't an argument.  She understands she'll have to offset it with a super-sale item or do with less ex., one less pair of pants.  After purchases I hand her the card with the spreadsheet printout and she subtracts the cost from each line item.  She knows I'm a tough cookie and that if she spends it all in the Fall there will be no budget override in the Spring.  (She does have a March birthday as a safety net.)

    The outcome:
    • She shops very carefully and looks for sales & clearance.
      Last year she decided to hold off on lots of back-to-school clothes so she could see what other kids were wearing and get them on sale! (Good decision since she grew 2" from Sept-Dec.)
    • She better understands want vs. need.
    • She's had buyer's remorse and I didn't have to save a word.  That expensive "great" sweater she wore twice before it was too small still hangs in her closet as a reminder.
    • She learned Excel and a practical use for math.
    • She had leftover $ at the end of the year!  
      I let her roll it on top of this year's budget so she could buy something awesome when she found it.
    BTW - I also have some fashion guidelines in place for what I consider age/school appropriate so it's not complete free reign.  She knows the guidelines and is still a rule follower so, it prevents augments too.

    Happy shopping,
    Practical Jenn

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Fast Recipe for Picky Eaters

    I am big advocate for family dinners. However, no one in my family likes the same food. Since I am the primary chef it adds to my frustration. Recently I discovered a new, somewhat healthy, quick and cheap meal idea from a Japanese steak house (where they cook at your table). I resented paying extra for the fried rice when I saw how simple it was make. It's funny how the kids won't eat scrambled eggs, but will in fried rice!
    • Eggs (Protein is a challenging food group for diverse taste buds.)
    • Rice
    • Vegetables (Frozen mixed veggies or anything I have in the fridge. I'll fry up onions on the side for the adults.)
    • a little oil for the fry pan
    • Soy sauce
    Leftover rice works better than freshly made so now when I make rice to have with dinner I double what I cook so it's available for fried rice.   My tween even makes it for herself! She'll opt out of adding veggies, but compromises with some baby carrots on the side.

    So, we now have something other than pasta that everyone will eat when we are short on time. 
    ...and only one pan to clean!

    Have a good day,
    Practical Jenn